[News] Decepción in Bolivia - contradictions in the Morales Movimiento al Socialismo

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jun 10 16:11:51 EDT 2011

June 10 - 12, 2011

The Clutches of Guernica

Decepción in Bolivia



A poster of “Guernica” was bursting from the 
wall, and the umpteenth Latin American rendition 
of “My Way” was booming from the record 
player.  I was sharing a hand-carved table in a 
Cochabamba cantina with a cowboy from the 
Chapare, an anti-capitalist immigration officer, 
an anarchist surgeon, and a 
barbacoa-restaurateur.  All had been supporters 
of President Evo Morales’ Movimiento al 
Socialismo (MAS).  The conversation was fiery 
and, as is normal here in the Andes, its topic was politics.

Despite this particular crowd’s claim to the 
middle-class, the agreement among them echoed a 
truth of Bolivian culture: a tendency to view 
things from the perspective of the collective, 
rather than solely from one’s perceived interests.

And indeed, this conversation echoed other 
charlas I’d had with campesinos, taxi-trufi 
drivers, and union members – and I need to be 
straight with you: things are not going well for 
the government of Bolivia’s first indigenous 
leader in 500 years.  It was only a matter of 
filling in the details – and, in between gulps of 
Auténtico beer and Cuban mixed drinks, said 
details were pouring forth at the cantina.

Then the question was put to me.  What did 
citizens of the United States think?  I had to 
admit two answers:  1) if my daily dip into the 
New York Times provides any indication, people in 
the US are basically uninformed about goings-on 
in Bolivia; and 2) for US leftists, 
environmentalists, and climate-change activists, 
the aura of hope unleashed by the 2005 election 
of Evo Morales lingers like perfume from a Cochabamba jasmine bush.

I offer, then, a sweep of an overview of what’s 
happening and what some cowboys and campesinos, 
taxi drivers and rank-and-file, are thinking.

Forked Tongue I: Madre Tierra

Out of one tine of what has become the Morales 
administration’s two-sided tongue come 
blood-stirring proclamations like the president’s 
empassioned grito “¡Planeta o Muerte!” at the 
2010 Cancun climate change 
talks.  Brilliant.  Then there is the stark 
refusal, that not even Cuba or Venezuela would 
match, to sign on to the watered-down agreement 
at said talks.  And now comes the nation’s new 
law proclaiming the rights of Madre Tierra – to 
some minds, a legal-philosophic leap forward 
that, a few decades ago, only bioregionalists, 
primitive-anarchists, and traditional Native peoples could imagine.

But, sorry to say, the other spine of the eco-fork must be noted:
    * the launch of genetically-modified 
agriculture into a countryside presently free of GMOs;
    * two under-construction hydro-electric dams 
300% bigger than the US’s Hoover Dam at a cost of 
$13 billion, slated to channel water to Brazil in 
exchange for monies to boost Bolivia’s petro and 
plastic industries – this, in a country where 
many communities have no potable water and water-borne illnesses are rampant;
    * in a nation uncontaminated by nuclear 
radiation: uranium mining, with future plans for 
nuclear power plants -- aided by Iran;
    * blankets of electromagnetic radiation in 
the form of WiMAX over urban landscapes – with 
the state telecommunications corporation bragging 
of 1350 radiobases in an area the size of Texas 
and California combined, with many more to come;
    * commodity-transporting highways bulldozing 
through protected nature reserves whose 
treasures, in the case of the Villa Tunari-San 
Ignacio de Moxos road, include eleven endangered 
species and three Native groups in 60 communities 
living their traditional hunter-gatherer-fishing lifeways;
    * new oil excavations;
    * new gas excavations;
    * in partnership with Mitubishi, Sumitomo, 
South Korea, and Iran: massive lithium 
development -- threatening leeching, leaks, 
emissions, and spills in the world-treasure salt flats;
    * Bolivia’s own Made-in-China satellite;
    * with the help of India, the construction of 
humankind’s largest iron mine;
    * 900 miles of pipeline slated to transport natural gas to Argentina; and
    * an explosion of airport and high-rise construction.

In other words: full-tilt, high-tech, 
colossal-scale, high-capital modernization -- on 
a Madre Tierra in which such expansion has 
already been shown to be The Problem.

Forked Tongue II: Democracy

Regarding governance, from one side of Bolivia’s 
forked tongue is spoken the legal language of 
plurinationalismo.  After centuries of 
dictatorships, neoliberal governments, and 
military juntas, the 2009 Morales-initiated 
Constitution legitimizes a form of decentralized 
federalism: a reinstatement of decision-making to 
local communities, whether defined by place, 
indigenous heritage, or worker identity.

But, from the other tine of the fork, we 
encounter unabashed state centralism – and the 
stringency of an 
If-You’re-Not-With-Us-You’re-Against-Us mentality 
to reinforce its dominion.  A blazing example of 
such top-down musculature is the 2010 Christmas 
Time Gasolinazo: Decreto Supremo #748 in which 
Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera abruptly 
announced that gasoline and diesel prices had 
been jacked up – by as much as 83%. (“Joy to the 
World” notwithstanding, the violent uprisings 
that followed rerouted the government’s hurry to a slower pace of inflation.)

But the truth remains: ever since the immediate 
threat from the right wing subsided following 
Morales’ 2009 re-election by 62%, a chronic 
refusal to listen to the very social movements 
the president promised to follow has posed a 
disturbing blow to adherents of participatory democracy.

When indigenous groups protest the bulldozing of 
their lands for the construction of freeways; 
when state workers call for increases in salaries 
against the reality of galloping food prices; 
when media workers fight for freedom of the press 
against regulations threatening fines and license 
suspensions, state control of 20% of the media, 
and state ownership of all of it – the administration’s reaction is knee-jerk.

Whether by the vice president or the president 
himself, citizens questioning the government’s 
dictates are received with neither concern for 
their suffering nor gratitude for their 
participation; they are bold-facedly dismissed as 
instruments of US imperialism, middle-class 
whiners, out of touch, and/or dupes of the right wing.

The Who’s famed rock ‘n roll declaration, “Meet 
the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss,” comes to 
mind, and the long-standing trade union congress 
Centro Obrera Boliviana (COB) is now seeking to 
unseat the vice president for just such a pronouncement aimed at workers.

Meet the New Problems, Same as the Old Problems

At the same time, Bolivia is rife with chronic 
problems that, according to some street-level 
opinion, the government has failed to address.

Corruption within government is an age-old 
theme.  During the Morales administration, the 
most spectacular example occurred in February 
2011: the US-Chile-aided arrest of the national 
jefe of police, former head of the Fuerza 
Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico, and 
founder of the Centro de Inteligencia y 
Generación de Información, General René Sarabria 
Oropeza -- caught in the act of opening up 
cocaine routes to Miami.  His accomplices 
included a mayor, a military colonel, and a captain.

Another revelation of corruption, moreso perhaps 
for spiritual interest, was the June 2010 arrest 
of Valentín Mejillones, the amauta-priest who had 
led the purification ritual of Evo Morales’ 
inauguration at Tiawanaku in 2006 – for hosting a 
cocaine purification factory in his El Alto home.

According to Diego Rada Cuadros, a lawyer whose 
family was forced to flee the country during the 
1980s dictatorships, in the nation-state boasting 
the severest poverty in South America and -- save 
Haiti – all of Latin America, a position in 
government that may last but six years (or, most 
probably, less) is a one-shot chance to amass some longer-lasting plata.

Too, while Bolivian coca has been sold for 
cocaine manufacture since Vietnam War days, the 
country is fast becoming a global fount of 
cocaine – and this development also feeds popular 
discontent.  In the tropical Chapare, where the 
leaf used for cocaine is grown, every family has 
a tale of relinquishing food crops to grow the 
more valuable produce, giving up agriculture all 
together to work in a lab, or loaning out a youth 
to play lookout at a staggeringly high salary of $200 a month.

According to satellite surveillance reported by 
the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and 
US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), since 
Morales launched his presidency, the number of 
hectares commandeered has expanded by fútbol 
fields: by 2008 as many as 28,000 hectares were 
ponying up some 130 tons of cocaine, and in 2010 
the vice president divulged that el narcotráfico 
now contributes $700 million a year to the 
national economy.  To boot, one out of every 20 
workers in the country is engaged inthe biz.

In truth, the location of drug production is most 
often determined by international events like 
droughts, floods, inroads made by drug-war 
efforts, and inter-cartel politics – yet many 
Bolivians contend that Morales is to blame.  In 
2008 he threw out the DEA; all the while, they 
contend, he was ignoring the expansion of cocaine 
production as he blithely touted the sacredness 
of the coca leaf and pushed for the right of cocaleros to plant it.

Decepción and Protest

Curiously, in Spanish, the word for 
“disappointment” is decepción -- a term that, to 
the English-speaking ear, does not merely name a 
feeling; it proposes a dynamic between inner and 
outer by citing the presence of an impacting source.

In Bolivia popular decepción was measured in a 
Radio Fides poll in February 2011.  The sample 
was conducted in the barrios of La Paz that are 
normally a MAS stronghold, and yet a whopping 84% 
of respondents reported loss of confidence in the 
government of Evo Morales, with 80% saying they’d go for a change.

In other words, the red-blue-white 
chompa-sweaters emulating the one Morales wore on 
his 2005 foreign-policy tour -- that every Tomás, 
Ricardo, and Hari was sporting in 2006 -- are now totally and completely 

Also reflecting growing disappointment is the 
fact that today’s Bolivia exists in a 
near-constant state of disruption due to non-stop 
huelga-strikes, paro-stoppages, bloqueo-road 
blocks, and manifestacion-demonstrations.  Such 
extreme tactics were honed during the military 
dictatorships of the 1960-‘90s to force demands 
by taking the economy hostage -- but they fell 
off during the early, hope-for-the-best years of the Morales administration.

As I pen this essay, the post office is closed 
down and a road block has halted overland travel 
between Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.  Before that, 
in April, COB threw nationwide marchesand paros 
seeking increases in state medical worker, 
teacher, and retired incomes to keep up with inflation.

During a (read: peaceful) demonstration by 
doctors, nurses, and educators in La Paz, a 
university professor nearly lost his eye when a 
tear-gas canister shattered his glasses.  After 
multiple surgeries – performed by the on-strike 
eye doctor in an act of solidarity – he is now 
waiting to find out if his sight will 
return.  His comment about the event:  “This is 
my personal tragedy, yes.  But it’s not 
isolated.  It shows how really bad things are in Bolivia – for all of us.”

 From December 2010 through March of 2010, during 
the worst global-warming-induced storms -- when 
for months rain gushed as if being thrown from a 
bucket and floods washed over communities like 
raging rivers -- the taxi, trufi, and bus 
choferes and transportistas shut down what was 
left of the water-logged economy with paros, 
bloqueos, and manifestaciones in all the major cities of the country.

Earlier, in October 2010, when the government 
began to whittle away at guarantees for freedom 
of the press via La Ley Anti-Racismo y Toda Forma 
de Discriminación -- ostensibly geared to fight 
racism and sexism, but also containing two 
articles initiating government control over 
content -- the nation’s periodistas hit the 
streets with coffins bearing microphones and 
reporter tablets, wrote protest placards with 
their own blood, hung like Christ figures from 
the balconies of buildings, collected thousands 
of signatures, and appealed to international press associations.

And in July and August of 2010, the city of 
Potosí – normally a MAS bastion – presented 
Morales with demands to be included in the 
promised proceso de cambio-process of change, 
mounting hunger strikes, bloqueos, and 
mobilizations of up to 100,000 protestors.

The Clutches of “Guernica”

I understand that the information I am laying out 
may be difficult to take in – and please know 
that activists in Bolivia have asked me to tell 
their compañeros in the US what is happening here.

In a world laden with fires, tornadoes, 
hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes, and 
technological disasters; unending wars over land, 
oil, and water; the unfolding of Peak Oil and, 
frankly, of what scholar Richard Heinberg calls 
Peak Everything; a refurbishing of nuclear 
technologies and fears of nuclear war; swathes of 
electromagnetic radiation from consumer and 
military installations; increasing corporate 
power; decreasing social liberties; out-of-hand 
control by drug cartels; cancer epidemics; mass 
addictions; and growing social chaos – in this world, hope is a precious thing.

When my essay “The Techno-Fantasies of Evo 
Morales” came out in CounterPunch (December 
24-26, 2010), the messenger was held guilty by a 
few -- to me, revealing the distress at losing, 
or at least calling into question, the pure 
promise that Evo Morales’ Bolivia had once offered.

Such distress is not unknown to me.  I left an 
established life in the US to be part of history 
in Bolivia, and when I arrived in April 2010, my 
heart clawed at my throat upon encountering the 
cynicism and despair that had replaced 2006’s enthusiasm.

But now, if I may muster an iota of the 
courageous perspective my friend, the injured 
professor, has managed: the predicament isn’t 
isolated.  It shows how bad things are – for all of us.

Indeed, the politics of the 
socio-techno-psycho-economic aggregate known as 
empire have had their way.  As American scholar 
Arab Edward Said has noted, no one in this world 
has escaped the impacts of imperialist 
conquest.  And yet, if we acknowledge that a 
better -- and perhaps evolutionally built-in way 
of being human -- is possible, we might also 
grasp that the conflicts, contradictions, and 
conundrum created through centuries of ripping 
people from roots in land and community, whether 
by force or seduction, have us by toe, throat, and tail.

Yes, ours is a world writhing in the clutches of 
“Guernica,” in which too many are dancing to the 
individualism of “My Way.”  In such a world, how 
does the beautiful, spirited human being blossom 
out of the militaristic politics, oversize scale, 
sterile alienation, and brash egoism that have, 
in one way or another, infected every one of us 
and every institution in our midst -- including 
in a mountain land called Bolivia?

I don’t ask my question seeking The Answer -- 
for, after a lifetime of participation in the 
political, cultural, and psychological movements 
of our times, I am aware of the multitude of 
intelligent projects afoot.  I ask my question 
rather that – if only for a moment – we may bring 
awareness and compassion to the sad reality of our world.

Chellis Glendinning is the author of five books, 
Technology Wounds, 
the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the 
Global Economyand 
A Village Takes on the Global Heroin Trade.  She 
is Writer-in-Residence at Asociación Jakaña in 
Cochabamba and may be contacted via 

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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